Upon answering the door, Tessie found herself face to face with a woman she’d never met before—bundled up in an olive parka, the fur-lined hood up around her head, a large purse hanging off her shoulder—and had only spoken with once over the phone. This wasn’t unusual in and of itself. Most of Tessie’s clients were strangers, and a large portion of those were one-time visits, or what she liked to call one-offers. Mostly these were either curious-but-skeptical customers, or they came to Tessie for a singular purpose which, once satisfied, were… well, satisfied.
The woman standing in the cold on Tessie’s front porch—beautiful, Tessie realized after a moment, older, sun-darkened features, with a strangely comfortable look about her gaze—came for only the barest purpose of ‘seeking Tessie’s services.’ One phone call, one question about Tessie’s business, her talents, and one appointment set thereafter.
Again, not unusual.
“You must be Anne-Marie,” Tessie said. “Come in, come in. It’s freezing out there.”
“Thank you,” the woman said, and stepped politely into the hallway as Tessie closed the door behind her. The woman unzipped the olive parka she wore, pulled the hood from off her head, but did not entirely remove it. “And you must be Ms. Harrington.”
“You can call me Tessie,” Tessie said. “Can I take your coat?”
“No, that’s all right,” the woman said, and smiled appreciatively. “I chill easily. Never cared for the cold much.”
“Oh? Are you from around here?”
“Ah,” Tessie said. “Somedays I dream of moving across the country myself, at least to fairer climates. Here, let’s take a seat in the parlor. Can I get you tea or anything?”
“Tea sounds lovely,” the woman said.
As the woman—Anne-Marie was her name—made herself comfortable on one of the sofas, Tessie waited at the end of the hall until Lisa poked her head out from the kitchen.
“Tea?” Lisa asked, already knowing the drill.
“Yes, please,” Tessie said, smiling as Lisa yoinked herself back into the kitchen to get it started.
Tessie joined the woman in the parlor. She took a seat on one of the chairs opposite the sofa. The woman--Anne-Marie, Tessie once more reminded herself—removed the purse from her shoulder and set it on the coffee table between them.
“You’d like to have a memory preserved,” Tessie said. “Is that right?”
“Yes,” Anne-Marie answered. Then she cocked her head and, with an almost meek expression, said, “I was hoping you’d explain it to me first. How it works, I mean.”
“Oh yes, of course,” Tessie said. “I always go over the process before we start, just to ensure you’re comfortable with everything. Would you like to just dive right in, then?”
Anne-Marie didn’t answer, and instead looked around distractedly, taking in the parlor and its decor. Perhaps too nervous to begin right away, Tessie thought. Oftentimes her clients became anxious once they were seated and about to begin. The memories they came to preserve or the circumstances surrounding them were traumatic or fresh, which sometimes led to second-guessing. Except Anne-Marie didn’t come across as anxious or hesitant, really. In fact, as she looked about the room, that comfortable gaze of hers remained relaxed as ever, and she almost seemed… disinterested? She observed the fireplace, then the mantel above.
“Are those your grandparents' urns, I presume?” she asked suddenly, and with her head still turned toward them, her eyes looked to Tessie expectantly.
“Oh, those?” Tessie turned to see them over her shoulder. “No, actually, those are my parents.”
“Oh dear, your parents? They went far too young, surely.”
“That they did,” Tessie agreed.
“How did it happen?” Anne-Marie gave Tessie her full attention now, genuinely curious. “If it’s not too much to ask.”
“No, not at all,” Tessie said. She understood that sometimes it helped to relax someone in Anne-Marie’s position by opening up herself, relating with something personal. “It was a sudden, unexpected kind of thing. They were both in an accident. A bad one.”
“I see. How terrible.”
Anne-Marie looked to the urns a second time, eyes lingering.
“Any children of your own?” she asked. She looked to Tessie once more, then toward the doorway to the hall. “Lisa, was it?”
“Oh, no,” Tessie said. She stumbled over her words a bit, flustered. “Well, technically no children of my own. Lisa is… my niece. Adopted.”
Anne-Marie smiled and nodded once, very slowly. Chin up, then down, as if understanding some great secret.
“I see,” she said. “Just the two of you, then?”
Tessie swallowed. It was only a brief moment, hopefully nothing to be noticed, but she eyed the woman on her sofa with a slitted gaze, suddenly skeptical of her curiosity. These questions seemed all at once purposeful. Leading. But as quickly as she suspected it, Tessie shrugged it off.
And then she lied anyway.
“Yes, just the two of us,” she answered.
Once more Anne-Marie nodded in that slow, deliberate way. Chin up, then down.
“A little family business, then,” she said. “That’s nice.”
Tessie sniffed, an awkward silence suspended, then looked to the woman’s bag resting on the coffee table.
“Shall we get started?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Anne-Marie said. “Please.”
“So as I explained a little over the phone,” Tessie said, “how this works is: with my guidance, thinking intently on the memory you’d like to preserve while holding the object you’d like to be imbued, I’ll use the power of my touch to make the connection as well as the transfer.”
Anne-Marie listened with an oddly plain expression, practically unblinking as if waiting for Tessie to finish with her spiel.
“You brought the object you’d like charmed?” Tessie asked.
“Mmm, yes,” Anne-Marie said, and leaned forward for her bag. She unzipped it and plunged her hand inside, rummaging. “It’s in here somewhere.”
She picked up the bag and set it on her lap, pulling it open to properly search through whatever else lay inside. Finally her eyes widened as she found what she searched for. As she proceeded to pull the object out, Tessie’s eyes widened likewise. To her growing discomfort, the woman produced a single shoe—a small child’s white sneaker, to be precise, only it wasn’t as white as it probably once was, or was meant to be.
The tiny sneaker Anne-Marie held was stippled with blood.